Last year around November, I co-hosted a discussion on “It’s Personal and It’s Okay: Giving and Receiving Feedback” for the Women & Allies employee resource group at my company. According to LinkedIn, not only is January an important time to get promoted but so are June and July, when budgets are finalized and teams turn a new leaf. But even in general, how you respond to and give feedback— downwards and upwards — are key indicators of your progress and potential. “Don’t take it personally” is a comment uttered consciously or unconsciously, oftentimes filling the air with awkwardness.
Well, feedback is personal!
In the discussion, we talked largely about radical candor, which in plain-speak is “saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to,” according to Radical Candor, a management-guide-turned-company, led by Kim Scott. “Why is it so rare that such a simple thing feels radical?”
For many participants that day in the conference room, they had rarely experienced a manager who practiced radical candor. Most fell under “ruinous empathy,” an ineffective behavior exhibited by many. You’ve also probably ran into ruinous empathy behavior at some point in your career, and may be a committing the crime as I write! This behavior is equivalent to a bitter-tasting pill in a spoonful of honey, otherwise known as the plain old sandwich — a negative feedback in between two positive ones. According to the Harvard Business Review, this ill-practiced approach is “misguided, because we don’t want the negative feedback to slip by unnoticed in the honey.”
The less common behaviors are manipulative insincerity and obnoxious aggression. In the case of the former, the feedback giver neither cares nor challenges. In the latter, feedback is given (there is challenge) but the feedback giver doesn’t think about how words are received or interpreted.
Here are two tips for you to get started on improving your habit of receiving and giving feedback:
If you’re the receiver, make sure to thank the person offering feedback, saying that you’ll think about it and follow up. The follow up here is critical; not only will you have reflected on it but it will also certainly build the relationship between you and the feedback-giver.
If you’re the giver and notice the feedback-receiver becoming defensive or shutting down, retreat to active listening instead.
Where feedback adds true value is when there is actionable advice — what can the receiver do to improve? Withhold judgement, ask questions to make the session interactive and give the receiver the opportunity to respond.